I can’t delay it any further: In the “most exciting feature of the Windows 7 desktop” competition, the new taskbar comes first by a margin.
At the first PDC session dedicated to the Windows 7 desktop, Chaitanya Sareen brought us all back to the future with this screenshot of Windows 1.0:
Do you see the origins of the new Windows 7 taskbar? It’s amusing to say it, but the Windows 1.0 taskbar bears more resemblance to the Windows 7 taskbar than the taskbar of Windows Vista does!
The evolution of launch surfaces that has accompanied the past releases of Windows gave us the concepts of Quick Launch, a taskbar area for commonly launched applications; desktop icons for users who like using their desktop as the launch surface; the system tray (a.k.a. the system notification area) for “cool” applications that don’t want to occupy taskbar area, but nag us every now and then with a notification from the bottom-right corner; and of course the Start Menu, and the search text box on the start menu, and …
Well, I don’t know about you, and I haven’t been running around collecting telemetry information the way Microsoft did, but if I were a user to first encounter the Windows Vista desktop, I would be kind of … confused.
So what’s really the message of this new taskbar? It’s not just another incarnation of the same user interface – it’s in fact a revolution of launch surfaces.
Running applications, multiple instances of running applications, pinned programs for easier launch access – these concepts are all consolidated into the new taskbar. The Quick Launch is dead; the notification area is (almost) deprecated and recommended to be out of bounds; large, beautiful taskbar buttons dominate the user experience after the first log on to Windows 7.
And it’s not just about the taskbar buttons! Right click any well-behaved application, and you get a beautiful menu of “things” that are relevant for that application alone:
And these “things” are custom tasks and application destinations, and each app can customize this menu (also called a jump list) to provide the best user experience imaginable.
If you’re writing an app that doesn’t have a well-defined file type, and it seems that you won’t have anything worthy to show in this menu, think again!
Assume you’re writing a patient monitoring application for some healthcare company. Right, there is no .patient file and no .diagnosis extension. But could you have frequent patients in the jump list, so that when a doctor clicks a patient name it will open that patient’s record in the your app? Or you could have the recent patients, which might be interesting at a different time of the day. Or you could have a special category of Important patients, or Infant patients, or …
And tasks? Oh boy, do you have tasks! Open prescription application, close the clinic for the day, manage scheduling and reception hours…
And that’s hardly all. The new taskbar gives us overlay icons, which is a small icon covering a part of your big icon to convey a notification message, instead of cluttering the system notification area with yet another balloon tool tip and yet another icon and yet another application that won’t close:
And you can have a progress bar in the taskbar icon:
And you have thumbnail toolbars, which are little buttons that appear under your application’s thumbnail and give the user even more control over the app – it’s in fact like a remote control with a preview!
And you have thumbnail previews, which can be customized to your will:
And you have a live desktop preview of any window from the thumbnail itself, without the hard window switching and switching back work:
Have I whetted your appetite? Do you desperately want to know how to use the new Windows 7 APIs to integrate your application into this spectacular experience?
You now have a differentiation opportunity like no other. By fully using the functionality of the new taskbar and accommodating your application to take advantage of it, you will shine among the competition and produce software that is consistent with Windows, consistent with the user experience and much easier and more fun to use.
In the rest of this series about the taskbar, we will look into various ways for accomplishing this goal. The Windows 7 SDK, the managed wrappers that we developed for the DPE Windows 7 training, and some common sense design guidelines will lead us through this path.